Today, we speak to Benu Lahiry, an associate marriage and family therapist. Benu was born and raised in Appalachia. She’s lived in small towns and big cities on both coasts. She earned her Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Wright Institute in Berkeley, and her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College. She currently works in community mental health in San Francisco, where she focuses on short-term therapy for teenagers in crisis. Benu is also one of the incredible couples therapists for , a new virtual platform for couples determined to help build healthy relationships. If you’re interested in proactively discussing values and life milestones with your partner, or if you need to work through some stuff, we couldn’t recommend Actually or Benu more!
First things first, why do you think it’s important for couples to talk about their values?
We all have our own expectations for our relationships and how they should be. We often start relationships by fixating on how our partners fit into our individual lifestyles, which is appropriate! As our relationships grow and we evolve individually, it’s harder to focus on the priorities of the relationship itself. It takes a lot of intention to consider “how does X impact my partner and the relationship?” This is why it’s important to understand our values and how they drive us. It’s about learning to adopt a more collectivist mindset rather than an individualistic mindset. Ongoing discussions with your partner around a shared vision for your relationship are essential so that you’re on the same page. By creating a larger context of meaning in your relationship, it can help couples avoid focusing on smaller annoyances and be focused on the big picture.
How have you seen failures to discuss these things manifest in relationships?
As I mentioned above, we have individual wants, needs, and fantasies for our relationships. When things don’t go according to plan, it can create friction in a relationship. Over time, friction can lead to negative interaction cycles that start to chip away at the trust couples have built into their relationships. Many couples start to feel that they’re not on the same page- leading them to fight about trivial things. When I see couples (in therapy), usually the crux of their problems aren’t usually what they present in therapy. It’s much deeper, and much more vulnerable. What is happening is that people protest and fight because they are feeling disconnected and not understood by their partners. And, that can feel scary.
What are ways in which we can individually understand our values and personal goals?
Great question. We can start by having an honest conversation with ourselves. Your goals in life will change. Think hard about what’s important to you and why you feel that way. Many of the things that used to feel important or were modeled by parents or caretakers as being important might not resonate with you as an adult — yet we can carry some of these expectations with us and project them onto our relationships by habit. Figuring out what matters and why it matters to you individually can really help shape how you can start having these conversations in your relationship.
What are some tools to help discuss and integrate these goals and values with a partner?
It can be helpful to start acknowledging your own emotions and the complexities around aligning your individual values to your partner and your relationship. It’s a vulnerable step to lay out all of your hopes and dreams for your future to your partner! Be open to the ways you’re both evolving together and individually. Does your relationship allow space to explore both yours and your partners goals? Being intentional about when to have these types of conversations is also crucial — especially now while we’re in a pandemic. Currently, there is no separation between work time and idle time or weekdays and weekends. Now, more than ever, it’s important to carve out the time and space to create a ritual around understanding what shared values mean to you and your partner.
You’ve mentioned the risk of “losing our identities” when we become parents. Are there ways that we can preemptively and deliberately make decisions to help prevent this, both individually and as partners?
The emotions around becoming a parent are so complex! It’s not so much as “losing our identities” as much as it is being open to our evolving identities. The nature of humans is to resist change, and yet, we are constantly experiencing change. Embarking on the parenthood journey feels chaotic and messy and we are bound to experience struggle and feeling a loss of control. Creating open and honest dialogue to discuss the uncertainties and fears around how our identities are constantly shifting can help create space for acceptance and embrace change.
Originally published at https://www.heymirza.com on October 16, 2020.